Schnyder’s brilliant music sparks rich and varied “Here and Now” festival
The new year has begun, and while most of us are catching our breath, indulging in late mornings, and dragging Christmas trees out to the curb, Bargemusic has filled the niche of this long weekend with another installment of their Here and Now Winter Festival of new and recent music.
The festival opened New Year’s Day night with a strong program of nine pieces from six composers, three of them making their world premieres, played by six different sets of musicians. (The festival continues through Monday and, while much of the music will be repeated, programs may be subject to change.)
The music was all high quality as was the playing, though the concepts, styles, and temperaments of the composers varied broadly. There was music for solo instruments, for the shamisen—a three-stringed, fretless, Japanese lute—for trombone duo, for a traditional piano trio, and some spectacular jazz composing.
Yoko Reikano Kimura played the shamisen. She and cellist Hikaru Tamaki comprise the Duo Yumeno, and they opened the night with the world premiere performance of Yoko Sato’s Not a Single Cloud Exists. Even on the non-Western instrument, this is a tasty, rhythmically vital piece of acoustic rock and roll. Kimura’s part called for her to lay down unmistakable rhythm guitar music, while Tamaki played a solo that would have sounded right at home on an electric guitar—then the roles reversed, and alternated throughout the piece. Beyond the entertaining energy, the composition has excellent solo writing, and the duo played with confident and relaxed commitment.
From the other end of the spectrum came Elizabeth Adams’ Alter Filter, played by trombonists Jen Baker and William Lang, in the world premiere for this arrangement. Adams’ remarks about the piece were confusing and jargoney, but her statement that it was a canon was accurate, though Alter Filter is an avant-garde one. The trombonists played almost entirely long tones, sometimes muted, sometimes with additional growled multiphonics. In the canon structure, the result was an exploration of consonant and dissonant intervals, an experiment to see what might come out of combining and juxtaposing different timbres. The change of pace from the opener was initially unsettling, but soon the musicians had primed the ears to listen for tiny and rewarding variations in sound, fleeting psychoacoustic effects, and one wanted more of the music’s refreshing stillness once the piece ended.
Joel Friedman’s solo viola work, When the World Disintegrates Before Your Eyes, brought more intensity and emotional darkness. This is a technically and expressively demanding piece, ably played by Andrew Gonzalez. The piece uses material from the scherzo of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as a jumping-off point. Friedman puts that into minor key, adds dissonances, repeats interior fragments, then uses the same techniques to spiral into more broad-limbed writing. The obsessive and interesting, off-kilter quality of the music was apparent, even without Friedman’s remarks about the personal turmoil that marked his compositional process.
Ending the first half was the last of the world premieres, Fred Rzewski’s Winter Nights, three related pieces written for pianist Bobby Mitchell. These are surprising works. Before he played, Mitchell remarked that they might be seen as indicating a late style, and they do go against type. While there are flashes of Rzewski’s virtuosic fire, the music is quiet, slow, spare, impressionistic, shining frigidly like streetlights off new-fallen snow. The piece compiles an intriguing set of ideas about modern pianism, as if Satie had sat down to try and improvise in the style of Chopin and ended up discovering Cage’s In a Landscape.
Scott Wheeler’s Granite Coast Trio—played by the Horszowski Trio—was first after intermission. Despite the interval, it abruptly reset the experience of the evening. Though styles differed, the music in the first half shared an abstracted expression, organization with a veiled teleology. This built a quietly focused, meditative listening experience.
Wheeler’s piano trio began with an emphasis on complex cross-rhythms, even the feeling of independent meters among the instruments, and that concrete vitality broke Rzewski’s spell. But it held its expressive cards close to the vest for awhile, and combined with its energy built a surge of tension. Release came through a soulful melody that rose from the cello and became the focus of the first movement. From there, the piece is a solid, extroverted, romantic emotional narrative, and the Horszowski Trio played it with fulsome feeling. The writing is direct and the form succinct, and there are little surprises along the way, such as a touch of gamelan music. As much as an aesthetic misfit it seemed in the overall company, this is a strong piece.
It also served as an effective appetizer for four short pieces written and played by Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder—accompanied by pianist Matt Herskowitz. Schnyder is fundamentally a jazz composer, and a superlative one. The swing in his music comes from the musicians he writes for—“Worlds Beyond” and “Trio” were made for himself, pianist Kenny Drew Jr., and bass trombonist David Taylor—and his thematic ideas are richly idiomatic.
He is also an excellent soprano sax and alto flute player (the instruments he brought), and matched in dexterity and musicality by the superb Herskowitz. Schynder’s music is not jazz tunes meant to drive improvisation—though the two did improvise beautifully on “Mensch Blue,” a teaser for Schnyder’s opera Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which will have it’s New York premiere at the Apollo Theater on April 1. His lively melodies and terrific harmonies are etched onto classical templates: “World’s Beyond” is close to a Scarlatti sonata, while in “Around the World” Schnyder takes fragments from the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth and works them into a series of tiny fugues that accompany his flying saxophone. There’s also a seasoning of Chick Corea, and the rumba, one of the cornerstones of the jazz edifice.
Schnyder’s music and playing were pure excitement for the body and deep satisfaction for the heart and mind. Beyond the intellectual exercises of third stream music and and the nostalgia of Gershwin, this was a wonderful and meaningful synthesis of two great traditions.
The Here and Now Winter Festival continues 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday, and 8 p.m. Monday. bargemusic.org